The issues surrounding the protection of a large area (754 km2) like the unique ecosystem of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) are varied and complex. One of the primary problems is convincing rural, poor village communities of the value in protecting areas which have traditionally been used as a livelihood resource. The topic has been an on-going issue for national parks and sanctuaries throughout India.
This article will share a personal perspective around working on these issues where I have been involved as an advisor to GHNP and living in a rural Kullu Valley for part of each year since 2003.
In 2000, Sanjeeva Pandey, the first director of GHNP, invited me to participate in developing strategies for sustainable livelihood activities with local communities. I spent a month trekking in the Park going through two main valleys, the Sainj and Tirthan, following their rivers. Compared to my hiking in America, there were virtually no tourists on the trails. An Ecozone adjacent to GHNP (250 km2) was also set aside as a transition area, as it was the region of traditional village communities with over 14,000 inhabitants.
The Forest Department (FD) wanted to encourage locals to become stakeholders in GHNP and programs were developed. These included helping in the establishment of a local NGO; micro-credit financing for women; training in alternative livelihoods such as working in forest nurseries (cultivating trees, shrubs, medicinal herbs), developing vermicomposting (purchased for FD nurseries); and developing local products for a wider market (rajama/red beans, apricot seed oil).
We began training young village men in trekking skills to develop jobs in ecotourism. Friends from the US and Germany came to GHNP and were very supportive giving constructive feedback so the men could learn their trade. This provided some men with more consistent work and helped develop GHNP-related livelihoods. Friends of GHNP was created to develop the Park’s extensive website as well as educational materials (posters, brochures, GHNP branding, videos). A Kullu tour company, Sunshine Himalayan Adventures, further trained the local men and marketed the Park using the internet.
These activities in the first years of the Park’s opening, helped some locals change their attitudes about GHNP and the value of nature conservation. In 2003 my wife, the writer Kamla K. Kapur, and I decided we wanted to live in India and with the help of Kullu friends we established a life for ourselves near the Park.
I continued working with GHNP and locals, trekking over 1,200 km with Sanjeeva in GHNP. But actually living in the region exposed me to the serious hardships of many poor villagers experienced. It was obvious how difficult it was for them to be concerned about protecting the Park, when getting enough to eat, having sufficient firewood to cook and stay warm, and dealing with a pervasive lack of health care were the immediate and crucial concerns. A big shift occurred when a young pregnant woman from a remote, higher village sadly died from a breach birth near our village. Talking to locals about health care, I discovered that it was not readily available with the exception of a more distant government hospital in Banjar and a small surgery clinic in Jibhi run two weekends a month by Lady Willington Hospital (LWH).
Kamla and I met Drs. Shelia and George Varghese from LWH and we started a health mela program to reach the local villages. In 2006 Avnish Katoch an NRI living in the US, contacted me about starting an NGO to help improve the quality of life and protect the environment of Himachal Pradesh. We set up My Himachal with a small group of NRIs, and it was registered as a non-profit organization in the US and later as an NGO in HP. The Kullu Health Mela project was expanded through the donations of friends in the US and has become an on-going part of MH’s activities. Working with Indian and foreign doctors, especially Drs. Jeph & Kaaren Mathias from New Zealand, data has been collected on child nutrition and malnutrition. Local women were also trained as nutritional workers for their villages. Our surveys have shown high percentages of persistent childhood malnutrition with all the troubling impacts on physical and cognitive development.
My Himachal has expanded its health programs in the past two years to include support for local nature conservation and education. MH has also brought in Indian and foreign student volunteers who have worked on ecotourism development and job creation, including MBA students at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (Mumbai). We are expanding our network of foreign advisors in national park and community development, and rural economics. We also interact with other environmental NGOs on watershed conservation and ecotourism issues. My Himchal has taken over the responsibility for maintaining the GHNP website and is currently updating it as a prime source of Park information. With the recent notification of GHNP’s placement on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List, there is even more MH focus on support for the Park.
Aware of the enormous impacts of climate change and global warming, MH is gearing up for projects which will use our ground teams to survey and interact with rural communities to better understand their preparedness for all the enormous impacts that will occur in Himalayan regions over the next 5-10 years. These include glacial recession and water availability (for farming irrigation, watermills, hydel projects, etc.), variability in monsoon arrival and intensity, flooding and drought, shifts in the growing ranges of agricultural product (e.g. apples and other important HP fruit), increasing forest fires, and both insect pest and disease vectors moving into warming, higher elevations. Many of these problems have already begun in HP.
The ground teams My Himachal have developed lay the foundation for us to collaborate with villagers, friends, and associates in different areas of HP. This will further our goal to both uplift the people and protect the unique Himalayan environment of this beautiful state.
For more information:
My Himachal: www.myhimachal.com
©2009, Payson R. Stevens.
Payson R. Stevens is an American trained in the earth sciences and art. For over 25 years he was involved with working with NASA, NOAA, and the USGS on global change issues. He lives half the year, with his Indian wife, in a remote area of the Kullu Valley, where he paints, writes, and does seva work. More of his artwork can be seen at www.energylandscapes.com
The author and his wife, Kamla K. Kapur (www.kamlakkapur.com)
2007 Health mela is already over and we will do it again in 2008 with your kind help!
The Jibhi CHAI team enjoyed hosting the graduation for seventeen women who have become community health workers at our Jibhi Clinic on Saturday 17 March 2007.The event was held in the Lady Willingdon Hospital Clinic, Jibhi and was attended by all the women except Manorma who couldn’t come because of a closed road.
Each woman invited two people from their village and it was good to share the graduation with people who will be beneficiaries of the programme. From Lady Willingdon Hospital Manali Dr. Philip Alexander (medical superintendent), Dr. George Verghese, (director rural programmes) and Dr. Anna Alexander came to the event as well as Rajinder Chauhan from the local NGO SAHARA which coordinates the activities of many of the health workers.
Dr. Jeph Mathias, Jibhi team leader, welcomed guests and acknowledged financial support which has made this programme possible, notably from My Himachal, the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi and Mr Payson Stevens from Ghyagi. He went on to thank LWH Manali for continuing human resource and logistic support and the entire Jibhi team for their commitment to the programme. Dr George Verghese gave an overview of the history of the Jibhi clinic from the days of walking around hills with bags of medications and clinics on a sheet of plastic run on the roadside. Rajinder talked about a wider vision of health and Dr. Philip Alexander about the relationship of the Jibhi clinic to the Manali hospital and the possibilities for the future. The speeches were interspersed with songs and health role plays by the Jibhi team. Finally Drs Alexander and Verghese presented certificates.
Lady Willigdon’s CHAI project based in Jibhi selected sixteen women for training through the Jibhi Clinic in 2006 via a participatory community based approach with the help of My Himachal. We held an intensive month of training in November 2006 but although we did get exposure to patients preseting at Jibhi clinic the team was always aware that patient numbers were not sufficient for broad exposure to common diseases. A week of training in our parent hospital in Manali was always planned. It has now been completed with great success.
1st August edition of Times Of India, Chandigarh published a detailed report about our Health Immunization efforts:
A complete detailed report was published with photgraph!
Health Mela in the Rural Kullu Valley
At 9,000 feet elevation, and a three-hour hike from the paved road, the village of Sajwaar did not expect to find itself the host of a health mela. But a unique collaboration recently brought child healthcare not only to Sajwaar but also to a number of other remote villages in the Seraj/Upper Banjar Valley of Kullu, HP during July 2006.
Volunteer doctors and staff from Lady Willingdon Hospital/ LWH, Manali (www.manalihospital.com) working with the local NGO SAHARA, and villagers from the Khadagarh Panchayat (Seraj Valley/Upper Banjar), all joined forces to bring villages a
“Health Mela.” The event was funded by “My Himachal“, a non-profit group of Himachalis from around the world (www.myhimachal.com). “Projects like the Health Mela are the beginning of our efforts to help improve conditions in Himachal’s rural areas. Our goals also include working for the environment and steps towards sustainable livelihoods. As Himachali NRIs, we want to connect to our rural folks and to encourage others to come forward and be part of the effort.” says Avnish Katoch, My Himachal General Secretary, who is based in the USA.
Read the rest of this entry
July 21-22, 2006:
Sajwaar is the largest village we visit in the Khandadarh panchayat. It has an approximate population of 800 and is the largest village in panchayat. We hike up from Ghiyagi, a distance of 10 km, to an elevation of approximately 9000 feet. Sajwaar lies in the shadow of Lambri Peak at 12,000 feet, surrounded by beautiful ridges the form the source of the Hirub nullah/stream.
There is a spectacular sunset and we pray for a break in the Monsoon rains. Padam Singh, who has done a great job organizing our trip, introduces to our hosts where we will spend the night. Other villagers arrive and want to know more of our plans and goals, which we explain. Dinner is a simple meal of dahl-chavel followed by local music and songs into the night.
The next day we set up in the village center. There is a large mandir/temple named after their Devta: Manu, the First Man in Hindu mythology. The clouds are low and beautiful, constantly sprinkling us with fine mist.
It is full, hectic morning with many children showing up with their parents or grandparents. We immunize approximately 70 children, continue our diet/nutrition survey of the children, and measure their weight & height.
Vitamin A & Zn supplements are given. Vaccinations include: MMR, BCG (for tuberculosis), Hepatitis B. AIDS Awareness literature is handed out.
SAHARA’s Kala Jatha theater is very popular and the skits elicit a lot of laughter. Some of the older village men join in with dancing. At the end of the street theater, more music is performed. Villagers Psy Gentleman mp3 download
do the local Himachal Pradesh dance, called a Nati with members of out Health Mela team joining in to form a large circle dance. The mood is very joyous and festive and the dance seems very symbolic of our connection here, high in the mountains.
To add to the festive and auspicious moment, the village Devta, Manu, is brought into the plaza as we end our work.
The good weather holds as we descend the mountain to Ghiyagi. There we have an hour debrief meeting to assess the Health Mela activities and learn from the experience. Right after the meeting breaks up, a huge thunderstorm hits—the heaviest rains of the Monsoon! What a blessing to have hiked down under the sun.
Number of children vaccinated: 75
For My Himchal:
Padam Singh, Himmat Ram, Payson R. Stevens
For Jibhi Clinic/Lady Willingdon Hopsital:
Dr. Kaaren, Khanti, Kanta Devi, Robyn Rai (Health Assistants)
Volunteers: Sara Deane & Family (sister & father visiting from Canada)
For SAHARA: Kalajatha: Devinder/leader, Bubbly, Maya, Surma, Bitu,
Rajender Chauhan, Tek Singh
Child Health Mela in Jibhi 7 – 10th JulyWe’ve just completed our child health mela in the villages of Khadagarh panchayat. It has been a big effort with a team from Manali supporting and it was a great success. We started on 4th July with visits to villages with the Kala Jatha (village
theatre team from SAHARA NGO) to put up posters and tell people about the mela. Then over four days we ran the mela in 5 different villages.
There was lots of action – we had one stall with nutrition posters and displays and teaching. Sara and Prema worked together to make soy pranthas for mothers and children to sample, as well as a weaning food – “Sathu” made
from a mix of ground and roasted rice, barley and wheat. We vaccinated children a total of 216 children with first doses of MMR and Hepatitis B. It was great to have the help of Miriam – visiting nurse from Switzerland for vaccinating and cold chain management. Jasmine did eye checks on all the children and prescriped glasses for a number of older women. All children
were measured for height and weight and we found a very worrying feature that over 70% of the children were under the 5th centile for weight indicating high levels of undernutrition. Robyn handed out the Vitamin A supplementation and deworming tablets.
Pushpa also performed a nutritional assessment on 50 children reviewing their diet over the past 24 hours. This will provide essential information to assess where and how under-nutrition is occurring.
The ‘natak’ / drama and song by the group from SAHARA was great and children and parents laughed and watched riveted. Top performer was our own Kantha Devi playing as Dr Ji, telling how to feed a young boy who hadn’t had enough breakfast before school! Padam Singh did all the organizing and coordinating with villages and was invaluable in this role. Thanks to all those who helped in different ways – and thanks especially to Payson Stevens and Kamla Kapur and friends and My Himachal for the funding support.
The collaboration started in 2005 with doctors from Lady Willingdon Hospital (Manali, HP) continues in 2006 with efforts to bring improved health care to the Khadagarh Panchayat in the more remote Seraj Valley of Upper Banjar, Kullu District. This brief summary will give both a background and the first of periodic updates to our activities in 2006.